Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year Nostalgia

[San Jose Creek, 1930]

While tooling around the interwebs the other day, I happened upon some surprising sites that detailed the Old Days in the area of Los Angeles County where I lived from 1953 to 1959. The pictures and the stories from Back Then were fascinating -- for the first time, for example, since I left the area, I saw pictures of landmarks as they were then, rather than as they have been transformed in the past 50 years.

[Eastland Shopping Center, 1958]

Eastland, for example.

I have not seen this place in more than 50 years, and according to what I have read, it has radically changed in the interim (Grants and May Co are no longer there, for example, and the May Co building is gone). But this is what I remember it looking like. I was most astonished at seeing Clifton's Cafeteria; I haven't even heard the name in more than 50 years, and I had forgotten about it. But the minute I saw the picture, memories came back, and I recalled eating there from time to time, picking out my dishes from the abundant selections, concentrating on Jello for some reason, and hot turkey sandwiches(?) (I can still see and taste the gluey mashed potatoes divvied out with an ice cream scoop) and eating with lots of other people in a pink and beige vinyl and bleached wood 50's Futurist Paradise. It was startling how easily the memory flooded back.

Another thing that startled me was a story in LIFE Magazine that was referenced at one of the sites I visited. Called "Americans on the Move"--

Though I was quite devoted to LIFE Magazine at the time, I don't recall the story. It was particularly intriguing to me though because one of the families covered in it moved to a house in La Puente, "one hill over" from where I was living at the time.

It looks pretty bleak and I suppose it was. Our house was built in 1954, along with many hundreds of others, but the section "over the hill" where these houses were built wasn't started until 1956, and I don't think it was opened for sale until 1957. I remember going up on the hill to watch the construction, construction that was mirrored by some new houses being built starting next door to our own. Our house had been the last one on the street until then. It could be a very dry and dusty area prone to wildfires. We were a good 20 miles or more east of Downtown LA (on a clear day, you could see it from the top of the hills, but clear days were rare... smog, you know.) While there were towns further east, it was essentially a rural district.

Through various clickage, I found some of the unpublished photos from the story that were even more startling.

For example, this:

And this:

Seeing them, I said, "Wait a minute, that's my elementary school. That was the kindergarten..." I was in the 4th grade in 1957, and my familiarity with the kindergarten at the school was limited to infrequent visits, but I do recall the blonde wood low cabinets, the wooden blocks with which to make forts, the easels, the high windows, the clock and the light fixtures. It was almost shocking. A photographer for LIFE Magazine had been there? Hmmm. Of course, that was the year a friend of mine and I were featured in the local papers -- with pictures -- for having discovered Indian artifacts on the school grounds. So maybe having more photographers around didn't make an impression. Then again...

Well, things could get a little dicey out in the far eastern suburbs of Los Angeles County, as spending a few minutes with just about any Sam Shephard play will demonstrate. As for me, I had... more than a few adventures which I may get into one of these days.
In the meantime, it's been kind of astonishing to find so much online stuff about so many childhood memories. I never expected it. But it's there because someone who's lived in the area all his life has spent the time and had the interest to assemble it.

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